Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam
At the beginning of the third millennium the international media was flush with articles comparing the global situation at the beginning of the second millennium with that at the third. US News and World Report said in its cover story that in the year 1001 Islam was in the lead in sciences, arts, culture, oceanography, geography, mathematics, medicine, and everything else. Its dominance was visible on the seas and on land, in war and peace.
At the beginning of the third millennium (the year 2001) Muslims were not in the lead in any field, not visible on the seas and in the oceans, on earth, in air or space. In the intervening 1,000 years others had sneaked upon them and run past, ultimately leaving them so far behind that they had virtually disappeared from the scene.
What exactly had happened to Muslims in those ten centuries? They had abandoned the search for excellence in every science, arts, craft, technology. Instead of pursuit of knowledge they chose to either idle away their time or fight among themselves over territory or other worldly possessions, against which the Prophet (PBUH) warned them. They had been told not to draw their swords against each other, because once the sword was drawn out it would never go back into the scabbard.
Muslims did not pay heed to the Prophet’s warning and drew their swords against each other within just a few years of the Prophet’s (PBUH) demise. A sizeable part of the population of the Prophet’s companions (those who had seen the Prophet (PBUH) or been in his company as Muslims) was killed in the first wave of the civil war. According to one estimate, the number of those killed was 100,000. Keeping in view the relatively small number of Muslims at that time this figure was devastatingly high.
The Shia-Sunni schism that developed in the time of the companions of the Prophet (PBUH) has not healed even after 1400 years. Today there are half a dozen sub-sects among Shias and an equal number among Sunni Muslims, if not more, all of them being of the confirmed opinion that only their group is the custodian of the True Faith. I will get back to this often violent division in a future article with a plea for unity.
Interestingly, as this violent internal conflict raged, scientists, scholars, some ulema, artists and craftsmen continued their search for excellence tirelessly for another 500 years, taking Islam to the peak as the leading civilisation of the world. Meanwhile, Islam as a faith miraculously spread all over the world. Muslims rightly regard Islam as Allah’s deen as it did not stop its spread even amidst disunity and conflict among Muslims.
Likewise, seekers of knowledge and Muslims engaged with technologies, arts and architecture, too, kept up their search for excellence. This effort had begun to slacken from the 12th century, but continued till the 16th century. At the end of the 16th century it virtually stopped. From this point the West marched ahead as we started falling back. Today the gap is so wide that if the West looks back it cannot see us even though it sees others running behind it.
We have virtually abandoned the search for knowledge, acquisition of new skills, pursuit of excellence. According to one reckoning regarding the depth of knowledge, inventions, discoveries and innovation the US comes first, followed by the European Union and Japan. China is trying to have the same excellence as that of the others with the additional advantage of a great land mass and a huge population. India is following on its heals. South-east Asia is moving fast with a greatly capable human capital. The Arab world is behind even South-east Asia with a lot to learn from South Korea. The rest of the Muslim world is hardly among the runners. This is a strange situation.
The United States has 347 Nobel Prize winners. Out of these one-third (over 115) are Jews, who constitute only two percent of the population. A large number of European Nobel winners are also Jews, whose total population in the world is only two crore, compared to 150 crore Muslims, whose Nobel can be counted on the fingers of two hands.
The world will recognise you only when you excel in the field of knowledge and contribute to the growth of human civilisation. There is no room for idlers, hair-splitters and masters of religious disputations and debates. The world requires solid, tangible, visible, verifiable contribution, not vapid, vacuous declarations.
My request to the young generation is to sincerely work for the advancement of knowledge. Islam says, “Knowledge is the lost treasure of Muslims. Take it wherever you find it.” If we do not follow this injunction sincerely, we are doomed forever. Search for knowledge and excellence in everything we do are the keys to a better future. Go ahead and work for these goals. Best of luck.